During the Conservative Party Conference this week, the chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirmed the government’s commitments to make benefits sanctions harsher.
Hunt said despite the host of job vacancies currently available in the UK, 100,00 people are leaving the labour market every year for a “life on benefits”.
In response to this, Hunt announced that the government is changing how work capability assessments work and examining the sanctions regime.
“It isn’t fair that someone who refuses to look for a job gets the same as someone trying their best,” he said.
Disabled people used as ‘scapegoats’
However, disability charities have described these new measures as an “attack on the welfare system”, and said the language used by the government is “harmful and potentially destructive to those who rely on the benefit system.”
Disability Rights UK says changes to the Work Capability Assessment have “terrified” disabled claimants, who are sensing that the government is “blaming them for all societies financial ills.”
“To continue to stereotype benefit claimants is unacceptable, to propose more sanctions is unacceptable, the government needs to stop demonising people,” they said.
The charity says that the government is using disabled people and those with long-term health conditions are as “scapegoats”, when they could instead be investing their money into public services so that more people are able to live in better health.
“If the government genuinely wants to reduce the number of people on benefits, there should be announcements on significant investment in the NHS and social care, a huge investment in mental health services, free skills training and for those who need to remain on benefits, which is already the least generous welfare system in Western Europe, there should be better and more targeted support, as currently, benefits are so low, that they are creating utter misery and extreme hardship,” the charity said.
A benefits trap
The learning disability Mencap says they are also “deeply concerned” that the Chancellor is looking at the issues of disability benefits “the wrong way.”
Mencap says that instead of finding ways to penalise disabled people through sanctions, they should instead tackle the barriers they face in finding employment.
Jackie O’Sullivan, acting chief executive of learning disability charity Mencap, said: “Our new research found 86% of people with a learning disability want paid work but face significant barriers getting a job – the biggest obstacle being that the benefit system is preventing people from moving into work. As a result, only 26% of people with a learning disability are in work.
“We have found no DWP programme adequately addresses these barriers and supports people with a learning disability into work. People with a learning disability often feel caught in a benefits trap – an over-complex benefits system leaves many people feeling confused and fearful of benefit sanctions.”
O’Sullivan says these announcements by the chancellor will only “compound the problem” and move people with a learning disability “further from the labour market.”
“If the government wants to move people into work, they need to expand funding for supported employment programmes and enable people with a learning disability who can work to achieve their aspirations,” she said.